In the annals of lurid, media-fueled trials, Michael Jackson’s probably won’t rank with O.J. Simpson’s, the Washington Post reports. It may even turn out to be something less than Scott Peterson’s. The restrictions placed on news organizations by Judge Rodney S. Melville seem likely to suppress media fireworks — and the public’s interest along with them. There will be a shortage of compelling pictures, and TV can’t survive long without that, the Post says. As the trial resumed yesterday after a week-long delay, the nature of the case — allegations by a then-13-year-old boy that Jackson served him alcohol and sexually abused him — is making TV producers nervous about what they’ll permit their correspondents to say about the proceeding. At 46, Jackson is the most famous person in America, and perhaps the world, who has ever been put on trial on a felony charge.
Almost a thousand media passes have been issued by Santa Barbara County superior court (the vast majority, it appears, went to technicians and production people, not correspondents). The media have only seven reserved seats in the courtroom –reporters rotate in and out on a set schedule — so news people by the dozens sit all day on metal folding chairs in a large, wood-paneled trailer near the courtroom. They watch a closed-circuit feed of the trial on a single 36-inch TV set. Under the judge’s rules, correspondents won’t be able to send real-time data from the courtroom or from the adjacent media observation room. Melville has banned all electronic communications devices from the two buildings — no cell phones, no laptops, no BlackBerrys. If news breaks, reporters have to race from the building to their camera positions outside, with other reporters standing by to run inside to take their place. A coalition of media companies has objected to “media impact” fees of $7,500 per day being levied by Santa Barbara County officials. The county says fees are necessary to recoup the costs of parking, additional security and the media “overflow” trailer.